The abundance of free and scenic spots in downtown Minneapolis set it apart from many other downtown areas.
Parking in some of these spots can be a little tough. We have found it is worth every penny to park in the paid parking lots or at a meter.
The Park Mobile app is a life saver. It allows you to pay from your phone and notifies you when your time is running low.
Mississippi River Gorge is a large downtown Minneapolis scenic spot:
The Winchell Trail, Minnehaha Lower Glen Trail, Stone Arch Bridge, Gold Medal Park and Mill Ruins Park are a few noteworthy stops within the Mississippi River Gorge Regional Park. Some of these are downtown, but most are within a couple blocks/miles.
132 acres of scenic outlooks, trails, limestone bluffs, picnic spots, beaches, and parks along the East and West side of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River Gorge in the Twin Cities is the only true river gorge on the entire Mississippi River.
It was formed by a massive waterfall now known as St Anthony Falls cutting through a layer of sandstone on the weakened limestone over the course of 100s of years.
Stone Arch Bridge is a historic scenic spot in Downtown:
The Mill City Ruins Park has walking trails along the river and is another great option if the bridge is really busy when you arrive.
We have biked to the bridge many times by taking the River Road down from Minnehaha Falls. It is a gorgeous ride with beautiful houses on one side and the river on the other. It is mostly down hill on the way there so remember you will have to conquer that hill on the way back 🥵.
Mill Ruins Park is another in downtown Minneapolis scenic spot with history:
In 2001, the City of Minneapolis opened up Mill Ruins Park to show a glimpse into the importance the flour mills had to our city.
One of our favorite facts of the downtown Minneapolis scenic spots is the power generated by St. Anthony Falls was used to run the old mills.
From the perspective of the park, the mist of the raging St. Anthony Falls is on display. Also, take in the intricate detail of the stone in the archways beneath the bridge.
If you want to learn more take the tour of the lock and dam or visit the Mill City Museum.
The waterfall downtown Minneapolis scenic spot of St Anthony Falls:
Not all downtown areas have a waterfall. Minneapolis is the high achiever of cities with St. Anthony Falls.
In the 1800’s this used to be the only natural waterfall on the northern half of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, it collapsed, but they replaced it with concrete. The natural waterfall sounds wondrous, what a time to be alive.
Take in views of the falls by walking the Stone Arch Bridge to Waterpower Park.
Gold Medal Park brings art to the park:
There is a hill in the center of the park with a spiral sidewalk guiding you to the top. The many sculptures that are scattered throughout the park give it an artsy vibe with over 200 mature trees to bring nature in to an urban setting.
Loring Park is another scenic spot in downtown Minneapolis:
The Holidazzle is hosted in Loring Park next to the lake. The month of December they string Christmas lights along every tree. This event hosts beer tents, craft booths, food stands, fireworks, movies in the park, and other fun events!
There are parking garages close to Loring Park, and street parking if you get lucky. To see everything in the area we recommend parking in the sculpture garden parking lot. Then, take the pedestrian bridge over to it.
Walk the Father Hennepin Bridge for views of downtown Minneapolis scenic spots:
The Father Louis Hennepin Bridge is a suspension bridge over the Mississippi River. You will find the perfect angle of the Grain Belt Sign from here.
Originally, the bridge was built in 1855 to connect Downtown Minneapolis to Nicollet Island. The one we see today was reconstructed in 1990.
We recommend parking in downtown near 1st Ave at a paid meter. We are usually able to get a spot next to Voya, a building with unique arch columns and an abundance of windows.
At night the sign and the bridge shine brightly for all to see as they pass by to highlight this downtown Minneapolis scenic spot.
Irene Hixon Bridge shows two views of downtown Minneapolis scenic spots:
The Irene Hixon Whitney bridge is a pedestrian bridge that crosses over I-94/Hennepin Ave connecting the Sculpture Garden to Loring Park. This is a work of art on its own and its a great form of exercise with its large quantity of stairs.
I wouldn’t consider myself afraid of heights, but this gets my heart pumping every time. I’m not sure if it’s the gaps in between the stairs or the cars racing beneath you as you walk across.
Yes, I am dramatic! Damion finds my reactions and exclamations amusing. He doesn’t understand why I freak each time, but that still didn’t stop me from getting these great shots.
The following places are technically not a Downtown Minneapolis Scenic Spot, but close enough to mention:
Walking around the 11 acres of land is entirely free, but the Walker Art institute next door has a paid admission.
Parking may be tricky unless you are willing to park on the side of the busy streets and walk a couple blocks. There is a paid parking right there to save the hassle and is worth every penny.
Did you know Minneapolis has one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the country? It is 19 acres in total if you include the Walker Art Center (11 acres without).
To sum it up, many of the sculptures are permanent and some of them change throughout the year. We have been at all different seasons, and get excited to see the new ones each time they change.
Scenic Spot, Nicollet Island:
If you are up for a walk around the city. We recommend parking in downtown near 1st Ave. We were able to get a spot next to Voya, a building with unique arch columns and an abundance of windows.
Take the Father Louis Hennepin Bridge over to the island. As a result, this will showcase excellent views of the Grain Belt sign on your way to the island.
Once you cross over the bridge you will see the adorable limestone Nicollet Island Inn to your right. On the left, De LaSalle Catholic High school.
Take in the detailed Victorian homes on the various gravel off-shoots of trails. Less than 200 people reside on this island giving it a small town feel. It may be like a small town, but still a downtown Minneapolis scenic spot.
Adjacent to the pavilion there is green space that also features the Bell of Two Friends, which is a Dotaku bell that’s purpose is lost to history.
In conclusion, on your adventure you will come across railroad bridges, many stairs, and if your up for more of a walk you can head North to Boom Island. To do so, take the Boom Island bridge from the north side of Nicollet Island.
Boom Island Minneapolis scenic spot with a lighthouse:
This is a personal favorite downtown Minneapolis scenic spots. Many people go here to have a picnic, fly a kite, read a book, relax in a hammock, or walk the trails.
Unfortunately, the only lighthouse in Minneapolis is not functional. It has been nicely renovated, and continues to shine as a historical monument.
A little History of the Island:
The land used to be an actual island. Sawdust and debris accumulated and filled in the land, when the sawmills were flourishing.
Large logs called booms, were used to collect the logs that would inevitably barrel down the Mississippi River. This is where it’s name was derived.